A Novel Idea

Posts Tagged ‘Mary Gentle

What does it take to get your attention?

The phrase ‘You never get a second chance to make a first impression’ is well worn, but especially pertinent to a writer navigating slush piles.

Publishers receive so many unsolicited manuscripts that it is physically impossible for them to read your entire work. You’re lucky if they finish your first page before moving on to the next manuscript.

First impressions matter. Your first page or perhaps only your first line will be judged as emblematic of the quality of the thousands of words which follow.

How do you craft a riveting first line?

My writing process, unlike a good scientific experiment is not consistently reproducible.

Sometimes the first line I write proves to be the both the first line of the story and the best choice. Sometimes I have to write the story before I can pin the opening down.

Right now I’m working on the first draft of my first novel. I’ve set myself the milestone of Bastille Day to finish it. There’s about a hundred pages between now and then to write. I should be tapping the keyboard furiously to close the gap, but instead my mind is circling the opening sentence like a vulture sensing death.

I turn to other novels I love for insight. Here are their first lines:

“It was her scars that made her beautiful.”

~Mary Gentle, Ash: A Secret History

“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”

~ Gabriel Garcia Marquez,  One Hundred Years of Solitude

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a fortune, is in need of a wife.”

~ Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Great first lines not only grab your attention, they pull you into the story.

I may have been going to far by equating them with flashing, but they’re just as arresting. 

I wonder whether these gems arrived in the first draft stage. How marvellous if they did.

What are your favourite first lines of published works?

I best get on with the remaining hundred pages…

Write well. Write often.

V.

(C) Copyright of the author. 2010.

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Warning: mild coarse language.

I must admit that I am a lapsed diarist. I blame my mother.

In grade five or six I kept a diary (I can still smell its honeysuckle infused pages and see the shiny faux gold lock and key). It contained the minutiae of my friendships and primary school experiences. Maybe some drawings. 

Children are occassionally cruel and I carefully documented a colourful incident. Even then I was committed to an accurate portrayal, so I included a swear word.

It felt good to unburden myself on the page.

Unbeknownest to me my mother had either been regularly peeking, or was curious with unfortunate timing. She had opened my diary, read the offending material and metered out punishment.

My mother and the wooden spoon were good friends. 

To this day, I still remember the burning sense of injustice I had at her invading my privacy.

I stopped writing in that diary.

Soon after I found a way to write whatever I damn well pleased: cryptography.

It wasn’t a very elaborate system. I simply invented new symbols for each letter in the alphabet and wrote with those instead. I did this right until I left home. I never got into trouble again (for that).

Over the years life accelerated and my diary keeping became patchy.

I started this blog with the primary intention of documenting my journey to become a publisher author.

I have the distinct feeling that life is going to open further to me soon and I want to remember what this feels like.

Intention is very important to me. It is the guardian of integrity.

I attended a conference last week which included a session on authors and the internet. Blogging was central to the discussion. Rules such as blog regularly (at least twice a week) were touted. Be topical! Be controversial! Be clever!

Maybe this is good advice if you care about building a big audience you can sell to.

To blog or not to blog, is not the question for me.

Yes I blog. Yes I think you should too if you feel so inclined.

Blogging is the keeping of an online diary or simply a chronology of thoughts.

It is a very human thing to do – to talk about oneself 😉

The question for me is: why blog?

I decided to investigate the blogs of a few authors I respect and gain some insight. I went to my bookshelf and selected living authors where I have bought, read and enjoyed at least two of their titles in the last decade.

The results:

Peter Carey (‘True History of the Kelly Gang’ and ‘Jack Maggs’) – couldn’t find a blog.

Jhumpa Lahiri (‘Interpreter of Maladies’ and ‘The Namesake’) – couldn’t find a blog.

Tim Winton (‘Dirt Music’ and ‘The Turning’) – couldn’t find a blog.

Neil Gaiman (‘Neverwhere’ and ‘American Gods’) – has ‘journal’ on his website but hardly ever blogs anymore to the point where old posts are ‘reprinted’.

Mary Gentle (‘Ash: A Secret History’ and ‘1610: A sundial in the grave’) – couldn’t find a blog.

Perhaps my favourite authors are too busy writing to bother blogging?

Is there a point to this?

Yes, I present exhibit A, Derek Landy’s blog.

http://dereklandy.blogspot.com/

Landy writes the Skulduggery Pleasant series for kids. I saw him entertain a crowd of sub tweens during his visit to Australia earlier this year. I think he drank a bottle of red cordial before he presented.

Landy seems to be blogging with both personal and commercial intent. He writes great slabs of posts and I can imagine the delight he must feel when his ramblings draw hundreds of comments. His fans have even set up a separate forum to discuss his work. He includes them on decisions such as the next title of his series. He truly seems to have a community of fans.

The first book in his series is sitting patiently on my bookshelf waiting for me to read it. I suspect its violence is going to be beyond my tastes, but I am interested in what makes his fans so dedicated.

I present exhibit B, Philip Reeve’s blog.

http://philipreeve.blogspot.com/

Reeve is the author of many great books for children. While his blog smacks you in the face with big book covers and a web trailer for his latest work, the actual content is much more of the ‘look at this cool stuff I found’ rather than ‘look at how terrific my books are’ nature.

Reeve’s blog is more a monologue than a conversation as there doesn’t seem to be a way to leave comments on each post.

I blog to share, to learn and to make connections with like-minded people.

Why do you blog?

Write well. Write often.

V.

(C) Copyright of the author. 2010.